A brain tumour is a cancerous growth that can develop in the brain or surrounding tissues. The causes of brain tumours are not fully understood, but certain risk factors, such as exposure to radiation or certain genetic disorders, can increase the likelihood of developing one.1 Symptoms of a brain tumour can vary widely depending on the size and location of the tumour, and may include headaches, seizures, memory problems, weakness or numbness in the limbs, and difficulty with balance or coordination.2 3 Treatment options for brain tumours may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these.4
Causes of brain tumour
Here are some possible causes of brain tumours:5,6
- Age and Gender: Brain tumours can occur at any age, but the risk increases as people get older. Men are slightly more likely to develop brain tumours than women
- Family History: People with a family history of brain tumours are at increased risk of developing one themselves
- Genetic Syndromes: Certain genetic syndromes, such as neurofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis, are associated with an increased risk of brain tumours
- Exposure to Ionising Radiation: People who have received high doses of ionising radiation, such as radiation therapy for cancer, are at increased risk of developing brain tumours
- Chemical Exposure: Certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride and formaldehyde, may increase the risk of brain tumours
- Immune System Disorders: People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or who have undergone an organ transplant, may be at increased risk of developing brain tumours
Signs and symptoms of brain tumour
- Usually a very first symptom of a brain tumour
- Can be severe and persistent, and may worsen over time
- Typically occur in the morning or at night
- Can occur suddenly and without warning
- May be focal (affecting one part of the body) or generalised (affecting the whole body)
- May be accompanied by loss of consciousness, muscle stiffness, or convulsions
Changes in Vision or Hearing
- Loss of peripheral vision, double vision, or blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears or hearing loss
- Difficulty with short-term memory, such as forgetting appointments or conversations
- Difficulty with long-term memory, such as forgetting events from the past
Weakness or Numbness in the Limbs
- May affect one side of the body or one limb
- May be accompanied by difficulty with balance or coordination
Management and treatment for brain tumours
- Surgical removal of the tumour may be an option if the tumour is in a location that can be safely accessed
- The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the tumour as possible while minimising damage to surrounding healthy tissue
Radiation therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with surgery and/or chemotherapy to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.
- Medications that target and kill rapidly dividing cancer cells are used to shrink tumours and prevent further growth
- Chemotherapy may be used alone or in combination with surgery and/or radiation therapy
- Participation in clinical trials may be an option for some people with brain tumours
- Clinical trials offer access to experimental treatments that may not be available through standard treatment options
- People with brain tumours may benefit from supportive care, such as pain management, rehabilitation therapy, and psychological counselling
- Supportive care can improve quality of life and help manage symptoms associated with the tumour and its treatment
The specific treatment plan for a brain tumour will depend on the type, location, and size of the tumour, as well as the individual's overall health and preferences. It's important to work closely with a healthcare team that specialises in neuro-oncology to develop a personalised treatment plan.
How is a brain tumour diagnosed?
Diagnosis of a brain tumour typically involves a physical exam, imaging tests (such as CT or MRI scans), and a biopsy (removal of a small sample of the tumour for examination under a microscope). Additional tests may be done to determine the type and grade of the tumour.10
Can brain tumours be prevented?
The causes of most brain tumours are not fully understood, so there is no known way to prevent them. However, certain lifestyle choices (such as avoiding exposure to chemicals and radiation) may help reduce the risk of developing a brain tumour.12
What are the types of brain tumours?
There are many types of brain tumours, which are classified based on the type of cells they originate from and their location in the brain. Some common types include gliomas (which originate from glial cells), meningiomas (which originate from the meninges), and pituitary tumours (which originate from the pituitary gland).11
Who is at risk of a brain tumour?
Anyone can develop a brain tumour, but certain factors may increase the risk, such as age, family history of brain tumours, exposure to ionising radiation or certain chemicals, and certain genetic syndromes. 5, 6
When should I see a doctor?
It's important to see a doctor if you experience persistent or severe headaches, seizures, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, weakness or numbness in the limbs, or personality changes. These symptoms can be caused by many different conditions, but they can also be a sign of a brain tumour. Early detection and treatment can improve outcomes for people with brain tumors.13
Brain tumours are abnormal growths of cells in the brain that can be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). They can develop in people of all ages and can occur in any part of the brain.1
The causes of most brain tumours are not fully understood, but certain factors may increase the risk, such as age, family history of brain tumours, exposure to ionising radiation or certain chemicals, and certain genetic syndromes. Some risk factors are still being studied, such as cell phone use and exposure to electromagnetic fields. While there is no known way to prevent brain tumours, certain lifestyle choices (such as avoiding exposure to chemicals and radiation) may help reduce the risk of developing a brain tumour.
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Brain Tumors - Classifications, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatments [Internet]. Aans.org. 2019. Available from: https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Brain-Tumors
- NHS Choices. Brain tumours [Internet]. NHS. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/brain-tumours/
- Ostrom QT, Fahmideh MA, Cote DJ, Muskens IS, Schraw JM, Scheurer ME, et al. Risk factors for childhood and adult primary brain tumors. Neuro-Oncology [Internet]. 2019 Nov 1;21(11):1357–75. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6827837/
- Pruitt AA. Medical Management of Patients With Brain Tumors. CONTINUUM: Lifelong Learning in Neurology. 2015 Apr;21:314–31.
- Radiology (ACR) RS of NA (RSNA) and AC of. Brain Tumor Treatment [Internet]. Radiologyinfo.org. Available from: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info/thera-brain#:~:text=Doctors%20use%20a%20variety%20of
- Brain Tumor - Risk Factors [Internet]. Cancer.net. 2012. Available from: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/brain-tumor/risk-factors
- How We Diagnose Brain Tumors - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute | Boston, MA [Internet]. Dana-farber.org. 2013. Available from: https://www.dana-farber.org/brain-tumors/diagnosis/
- Brain Tumor - Symptoms and Signs [Internet]. Cancer.net. 2018. Available from: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/brain-tumor/symptoms-and-signs
- Brain Neoplasms Treatment & Management: Approach Considerations, Prehospital Care, Emergency Department Care. eMedicine [Internet]. 2022 Aug 24 [cited 2023 Feb 25]; Available from: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/779664-treatment
- Brain tumor - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic [Internet]. www.mayoclinic.org. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/brain-tumor/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350088#:~:text=Surgery%20to%20remove%20a%20brain
- Signs & Symptoms [Internet]. National Brain Tumor Society. Available from: https://braintumor.org/brain-tumors/diagnosis-treatment/signs-symptoms/